The best books on unassumingly sketching the world around us

Why am I passionate about this?

I've taught Drawing in universities since 1985. Currently, I work at IADE-Universidade Europeia in Lisbon, Portugal. Long before that, at the age of five, I drew a volcano. A mountain exploding on the top as a delirious shiny crown and lava running from its flanks making a pattern of vibrant reddish-yellow. Proudly, I showed it to my mother. She exclaimed: What a beautiful pineapple! I only retained the word ‘beautiful’ and never stopped drawing. Trained as an architect, I discovered the virtue of drawing what we see, while experiencing the act of being there. I also became a compulsive reader, perhaps to experience the act of being elsewhere. 

I wrote...

The Smooth Guide to Travel Drawing

By Eduardo Côrte-Real,

Book cover of The Smooth Guide to Travel Drawing

What is my book about?

The Smooth Guide to Travel Drawing shows sketches of the world, resulting from leisure and mostly from work from the late 1990s to 2009. England, France, Italy, Israel, Japan, Spain, US, and Portugal, are some of the inspiring places depicted in this book.

Here, I advocated a neutral position while sketching that differs from an approach towards illustration or creating postcards from the most iconic places. You can find more detail in the interior of an apartment in the Lower East Side than in the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The drawings were made in moments of suspension in time that are common to every person traveling. It also describes the mental state that occurs while drawing and gives good technical advice on sketching the world around us.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Bento's Sketchbook

Eduardo Côrte-Real Why did I love this book?

John Berger taught us to see art in a new way. His acclaimed BBC series changed the way art was shown on TV. Contemplating art included looking around and finding remarkable images being used in plain situations. In his book, Here is where we meet he placed a heart-touching short story in Lisboa, my adored city. I realised that we had often crossed the same roads and parks, enjoyed the same views. I was conquered. In Bento’s Sketchbook, Berger searches for the mind of Baruch (Bento) Spinoza, one of the most enigmatic philosophers of the 17th century. It is nice to follow this book by reading Antonio Damásio’s Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Berger also mentions Damásio, describing what goes on in his mind and body when drawing. The Dutch Philosopher, a member of the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam, had a rich work that was able to offer to Berger a door for an early modern ethic. He also sketches and talks about how he draws unassumingly, imagining how Spinoza would use his own mythical sketchbook. Unassumingly doing things is part of a soft power ethical that is condensed in the idea of respecting others. 

By John Berger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bento's Sketchbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza-also known as Benedict or Bento de Spinoza-spent the most intense years of his short life writing. He also carried with him a sketchbook. After his sudden death, his friends rescued letters, manuscripts, notes-but no drawings.

For years, without knowing what its pages might hold, John Berger has imagined finding Bento's sketchbook, wanting to see the drawings alongside his surviving words. When one day a friend gave him a beautiful virgin sketchbook, Berger said, "This is Bento's!" and he began to draw, taking his inspiration from the philosopher's vision.

In this illustrated color book John Berger…

Book cover of The Acme Novelty Date Book: Sketches and Diary Pages in Facsimile

Eduardo Côrte-Real Why did I love this book?

This is probably the book, in the entire history of publishing, in which the author repeatedly apologizes for having it published. Of course, this is entirely false modesty. Ware is one of the more acclaimed and creative graphic tellers of our time. This is a facsimile of his sketchbooks from 1986 to 1995. A second one would follow but this is the first and, consequently, closer to the source of his creative origins. But my main reason for suggesting this book in this context is the way he draws by observing what is around him as a sort of breathing exercise that keeps him alive and going.

By Chris Ware,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Acme Novelty Date Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Outtakes Of An American Genius Acclaimed cartoonist Chris Ware reveals the outtakes of his genius in these intimate, imaginative, and whimsical sketches collected from the years during which he completed his award-winning graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth (Pantheon). This book is as much a companion volume to Jimmy Corrigan - one of the great crossover success stories - as a tremendous art collection from of one of America's most interesting and popular graphic artists. Ware has a passion for drawing that is surprisingly wideranging in style and subject. This book surprises the reader on every page…

Book cover of Henry Moore's Sheep Sketchbook

Eduardo Côrte-Real Why did I love this book?

Where else can we find 159 sheep and 49 lambs sketched by a celebrated modern sculptor? This flock is a treatise of graphic easiness and uncompromising observation exercises. A must-see for anyone armed with a ballpoint pen and a rural disposition. There are also texts by Moore himself and Kenneth Clark, the art historian dethroned by Berger as the great British Broadcasting cultural oracle. Although Clark suggests that Moore’s drawings show some love for the sheep, the latter’s text is a love letter to drawing, simply.  

By Henry Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Henry Moore's Sheep Sketchbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In February 1972 Henry Moore's sculpture studios in the English countryside at Much Hadham were filled with the preparations for his retrospective exhibition in Florence. He retreated to a small studio overlooking the fields where a local farmer grazed his sheep. The sheep came very close to the window, attracting his attention, and he began to draw them. Initially he saw them as four-legged balls of wool, but his vision changed as he explored what they were really like - the way they moved, the shape of their bodies under the fleece. They also developed strong human and biblical associations,…

Book cover of David Hockney: A Yorkshire Sketchbook

Eduardo Côrte-Real Why did I love this book?

This book answers the excruciating question: Where are the antinomic antipodes of Los Angeles located? The British master of Pop Art, a long-time inhabitant of LA from 1964 to 2019, filled this sketchbook in his native England. There are no words in this book except for an apocryphal introduction and Hockney’s hand brushed “Yorkshire April 04”. If Henry Moore masters the ballpoint pen, David Hockney excels in watercolor. But the brush is not primarily used to fill in surfaces but to draw. The colorful water flows in fast gestures easy and attentive. “I could do this,” one thinks. Only if I had my own Yorkshire and my faraway LA. The book is also a prequel to Hockney’s most recent work, fully bucolic, produced in Normandy, France where, according to him, people know how to live. Hockney pretends to do everything unassumingly. Of course we know that this is not completely so. That’s why I love his art.  

By David Hockney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked David Hockney as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In recent years David Hockney has returned to England to paint the landscape of his childhood in East Yorkshire. Although his passionate interest in new technologies has led him to develop a virtuoso drawing technique on an iPad, he has also been accompanied outdoors by the traditional sketchbook, an invaluable tool as he works quickly to capture the changing light and fleeting effects of the weather. Executed in watercolour and ink, these panoramic scenes have the spatial complexity of finished paintings - the broad sweep of sky or road, the patchwork tapestry of land - yet convey the immediacy of…

Book cover of Stoner

Eduardo Côrte-Real Why did I love this book?

Hey, but that is not a book on drawing or sketching!! 

Yes, but it is a book on unassumingly living a life. And also because Williams is a master of clear lean writing. Nothing seems superfluous without being simplistic. That is also the secret that I praise in sketching from life. 

Stoner is probably the best book on the subject of unassumingly sketching the world around us, only with words.

By John Williams,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Stoner as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'It's the most marvellous discovery for everyone who loves literature' Ian McEwan, BBC Radio 4

Colum McCann once called Stoner one of the great forgotten novels of the past century, but it seems it is forgotten no longer - in 2013 translations of Stoner began appearing on bestseller lists across Europe. Forty-eight years after its first, quiet publication in the US, Stoner is finally finding the wide and devoted readership it deserves. Have you read it yet?

William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature…

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Book cover of A Theory of Expanded Love

Caitlin Hicks Author Of A Theory of Expanded Love

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Why am I passionate about this?

My life and work have been profoundly affected by the central circumstance of my existence: I was born into a very large military Catholic family in the United States of America. As a child surrounded by many others in the 60s, I wrote, performed, and directed family plays with my numerous brothers and sisters. Although I fell in love with a Canadian and moved to Canada, my family of origin still exerts considerable personal influence. My central struggle, coming from that place of chaos, order, and conformity, is to have the courage to live an authentic life based on my own experience of connectedness and individuality, to speak and be heard. 

Caitlin's book list on coming-of-age books that explore belonging, identity, family, and beat with an emotional and/or humorous pulse

What is my book about?

Trapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the shortlist to be elected the first American pope.

Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when “The Hands” visits her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. 

Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.

A Theory of Expanded Love

By Caitlin Hicks,

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